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PIF-backed Cruise Saudi to develop national cruise industry

Saudi Arabia is 'a brand-new destination, and this is exactly what the cruise industry is looking for,' Cruise Saudi Interim CEO Fawaz said
Officially launched today, Cruise Saudi aims to establish the cruise industry in Saudi Arabia and create a new destination for international cruise lines.

Cruise Saudi will develop ports and terminals in several cities, along with tourist destinations, all with the aim of introducing new itineraries that explore Saudi heritage and culture while ensuring the preservation of the environment and the protection of natural resources.

Based in Jeddah, Cruise Saudi is fully owned by the country's Public Investment Fund, the kingdom's main investment arm. It is part of the PIF Strategy 2021-2025, which focuses on diversifying revenue sources away from oil.

'Historic moment'

Speaking today at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, Cruise Saudi Interim CEO Fawaz Farooqui called the launch a 'historic moment.'

It is a testament to the country's Vision 2030, the tourists Saudi Arabia wants to attract and the new cultural sites it wants to develop.

Plus, 'It's a brand-new destination, and this is exactly what the cruise industry is looking for,' Farooqui said. 'So we want to give them access to beautiful sites and pristine waters and beaches,' while also ensuring the sites and the environment are protected and preserved.

Cruise Saudi is also expected to boost the economy, creating 50,000 direct, indirect and seasonal jobs by 2035.

On stage with Farooqui in Riyadh was Manfredi Lefebvre d'Ovidio, former Silversea Cruises executive chairman and owner, and co-chairman of Abercrombie & Kent. Last year, Cruise Saudi operated a Red Sea charter program with a Silversea ship.

'Huge potential'

Having extensively toured the country, Lefebvre sees 'huge potential.' He said Saudi Arabia offers 'everything — authentic culture, beautiful nature, the best sea in the world, incredible landscapes, history, food, so much to do and so much to see.'

Infrastructure is needed, but 'that is going to come, I hope,' Lefebvre said.

Silversea has stops in Jeddah during 2022 and 2023 as part of Piraeus-Dubai and Singapore (or Mumbai)-Piraeus voyages.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Farooqui noted three of the country's five UNESCO World Heritage Sites will be accessible through Cruise Saudi, two on the Red Sea and one on the Arabian Gulf. This, along with 'the most stunning marine habitat with some of the most resilient coral reefs in the world, and we're going to be sure we're protecting it.'

Cruise Saudi, he added, is a 'one-stop shop to help cruise companies get into Saudi Arabia.'

Farooqui added: 'The Saudi waters are open. We welcome you to Saudi Arabia.'

MSC to call Damman

Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Cruises and global chairman of Cruise Lines International Association, noted new destinations will be key to cruising's recovery and sustainable growth.

Welcoming Cruise Saudi, he said MSC is looking at the Red Sea, 'an incredible destination,' along with the Arabian Gulf.

Vago announced that for the upcoming 2021/22 season in the Gulf, MSC will incorporate a stop at Dammam in Saudi Arabia, part of a 'beautiful offering' that includes Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar.

Jeddah homeport?

Vago added it may be possible to develop a homeport in Jeddah one day where MSC travelers from all over the world could embark to explore the Red Sea.

He suggested a smaller vessel may be appropriate for this destination and underscored the importance of protecting the environment.

Another panelist, Barry Sternlicht, chairman and CEO of Starwood Capital Group, which is working on three hotels in the country, said he's impressed with the delicate balance Saudi Arabia is achieving by pushing ahead with development while also prioritizing preserving the environment.

Sternlicht complimented the country on its 'excellent' US advertising campaign which 'demystifies an area of the world that's not very well understood. It's such a culture of hospitality. I've always felt very welcome,' he said.

Miguel Reyna and Mark Robinson bolster Cruise Saudi

Former Disney Cruise Line President Karl Holz, who moderated the Future Investment Initiative cruise session, directed the audience to, which lists two high-profile cruise industry executives bolstering the team: Miguel Reyna as chief development & asset management officer and Mark Robinson as chief commercial & operations officer.

Reyna spent 20 years with Royal Caribbean Group in commercial and port development and asset management roles roles, most recently as AVP commercial development & construction.

With more than 30 years of experience in the cruise and travel sectors, Robinson most recently served as head of business development, EMEA & Asia Pacific, for Global Ports Holding. Earlier, he created and led Intercruises Shoreside & Port Services over 15 years.